The Presidential Scholars Program brings some of the most distinguished voices in the area of anti-racist scholarship and policy to Amherst for short-term residencies. During their time at Amherst, visiting scholars present a public lecture, hold seminars, and meet with students, faculty, and staff. 

Launched in conjunction with Amherst’s 2020 Anti-Racism Plan, the Presidential Scholars program brings exceptional thinkers to campus for short-term residencies. Presidential Scholars are nominated by faculty and other community members and hosted by the Center for Humanistic Inquiry and the President’s Office.


2023–2024 Presidential Scholars

Natasha Trethewey

United States Poet Laureate (2012-2014) and Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poet

February 22–24, 2024

Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey served two terms as the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States (2012-2014). In his citation, Librarian of Congress James Billington wrote, “Her poems dig beneath the surface of history—personal or communal, from childhood or from a century ago—to explore the human struggles that we all face.” Trethewey was the first Southerner to receive the honor since Robert Penn Warren, in 1986, and the first African American since Rita Dove, in 1993.

Trethewey is the author of Monument (2018), which was longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award, a retrospective drawing together verse that delineates the stories of working class African American women, a mixed-race prostitute, one of the first black Civil War regiments, mestizo and mulatto figures in Casta paintings, Gulf coast victims of Katrina; Thrall (2012), which the Washington Post called “a powerful, beautifully crafted book”; Native Guard (2007), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize; Bellocq’s Ophelia (2002), named a Notable Book for 2003 by the American Library Association; and Domestic Work (2000), which was selected by Rita Dove as the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet and won both the 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry. Trethewey is also the author of the poetry chapbook Congregation (2015) and the prose book Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2012), and she served as editor of The Best American Poetry 2017. She is also the author of the memoir Memorial Drive (2020).

Among her many honors, Trethewey is the recipient of the 2020 Bobbitt Prize for Lifetime Achievement, a 2017 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities category, as well as the 2016 Academy of American Poets Fellowship, which recognizes distinguished poetic achievement. In the judge’s citation, Marilyn Nelson stated: “Natasha Trethewey’s poems plumb personal and national history to meditate on the conundrum of American racial identities. Whether writing of her complex family torn by tragic loss, or in diverse imagined voices from the more distant past, Trethewey encourages us to reflect, learn, and experience delight. The wide scope of her interests and her adept handling of form have created an opus of classics both elegant and necessary.”

Trethewey has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. In 2013 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. At Northwestern University she is a Board of Trustees Professor of English in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

In her second term as United States Poet Laureate, Trethewey’s signature project was a PBS NewsHour Poetry Series, “Where Poetry Lives.” In this series Trethewey traveled with Senior Correspondent Jeffrey Brown to cities across the United States in order to explore societal issues such as Alzheimer’s, domestic abuse, the civil rights movement, and incarcerated teenagers—all through the prism of poetry, literature, and Trethewey’s own personal experiences.

In addition to being United States Poet Laureate, she held the position of State Poet Laureate of Mississippi from 2012-2016.


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Three book covers by Natasha Trethewey

Presidential Scholar Natasha Trethewey in Conversation with President Michael A. Elliott

This event is a part of LitFest, Amherst College’s literary festival celebrating fiction, nonfiction, poetry and spoken-word performance, along with the College’s extraordinary literary life.

Time: 5 p.m.

Location: Johnson Chapel, with livestream option


A photo of Carol Anderson

Presidential Scholar Carol Anderson

October 11-13, 2023: Learn more and watch a video of Carol Anderson, Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University and the author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.

Two people talking on a stage with an Amherst College banner in the background

Nominate a Future Presidential Scholar

The Office of the President and the Center for Humanistic Inquiry request your nominations of eminent scholars, artists, policy experts, and public intellectuals for the Presidential Scholars Program.

2022–2023 Presidential Scholars

Watch conversations with the four Presidential Scholars for 2022–23. In its second year, the program continued to bring preeminent scholars from a wide range of disciplines to Amherst to explore diverse themes and ideas, including the afterlife of slavery in modern American society; the role that theater, race, class, and sexuality play in shaping identity in America; and new initiatives in shaping gender and identity studies in higher education. This year also featured Jason Moran’s multidisciplinary concert program, James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hellfighters: The Absence of Ruin, Moran’s response to Orlando Patterson’s concept of the “absence of ruin”—a musical monument to a vanishing African American history.

During short-term residencies, visiting scholars presented public lectures, visited classes, and met with students, faculty, and staff. Scholars were nominated by faculty and other community members and hosted by the Center for Humanistic Inquiry in partnership with the President’s Office.

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A photo of Saidiya Hartman

Saidiya Hartman

Saidiya Hartman is a professor at Columbia University whose work explores the afterlife of slavery in modern American society.

Learn More

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An older, distinguished man in a white shirt with a bookcase in the background

Hilton Als

As a staff writer and theater critic at The New Yorker, Als brings to the magazine a sharp and lyrical perspective on performance.

Watch the Video

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A photo of Jason Moran

Jason Moran

Pianist and composer Jason Moran has established himself as a risk taker and trendsetter for new directions in jazz performance and composition.

Watch the Video

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Karma Chávez

Chávez has been at the forefront of fostering relationships among those who study systems of power and support local and university social justice efforts.

Watch the Video


2021–2022 Presidential Scholars

Watch conversations with the four Presidential Scholars for 2021–22. In its first year, the program brought preeminent scholars from a wide range of disciplines to Amherst in order to deepen and enrich our campus-wide conversation about racial justice, racial history, and anti-racist scholarship, action, and policy. During short-term residencies, visiting scholars presented public lectures, visited classes, and met with students, faculty, and staff. Scholars were nominated by faculty and other community members and hosted by the Center for Humanistic Inquiry in partnership with the President’s Office.

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Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy and core faculty in women’s and gender studies at the University of New Hampshire.

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Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Author, critic-at-large for The Los Angeles Times, and recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, Viet Thanh Nguyen speaks with Jennifer Acker ’00, editor-in-chief of The Common.

Watch the Video

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Kwame Anthony Appiah

Kwame Anthony Appiah

Watch a conversation with renowned ethicist and professor of philosophy and law at NYU, Kwame Anthony Appiah, as well as an interview between Professor Appiah and Sophie Wolmer ’23.

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Harriet Washington

Harriet Washington

A conversation with National Book Critics Circle Award-winning science writer, editor, and ethicist Harriet Washington, and an interview between Washington and Aditi Nayak ’23.

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Previous Speakers in This Series

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Imani Perry

Imani Perry in conversation with Anthony Jack ’07     
Watch the Video »

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Walter Johnson ’88   

The Broken Heart of America: A Conversation with Walter Johnson ’88     
Watch the video »

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Ibram X. Kendi

A conversation with Ibram X. Kendi with moderator Kimberlyn Leary ’82      
Read more »

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Helen Zia

Activism and Anti-Asian Violence: A conversation with Helen Zia      
Read more »

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Nicka Smith

Held in the Balance: The Trask 250 by Nicka Smith     
Watch the video »